The Danny Williams surgery shouldn’t be controversial

Originally published in MedPage Today

by Michael Smith

The Danny Williams surgery shouldnt be controversial OK, don’t take this the wrong way, but ….

Chill. Relax. Give the other guy the benefit of the doubt. Don’t jump to conclusions. And most of all, think before you speak, blog, natter, comment, or otherwise pontificate on issues of the day.

And when I say ‘think,’ I don’t mean trying to find the most effective schoolyard taunt or debater’s trick. I mean think about the facts. And again — not with the usual intent to distort that is all so prevalent these days.

I mean, death panels. Sheeesh! Come on.

This whole rant comes in the wake of the recent kafuffle up here in the frozen north (although, just by the way, not nearly so frozen as DC). You’ll recall that a prominent politician up here had heart trouble and sought treatment in the (gasp!) U.S.

Now in a rational world, that would have been worth two paragraphs in the local papers and nothing at all on the world stage.

But no. North of the border, pundits of all stripes weighed in to suggest that if Danny Williams couldn’t get the care he needed in his native Newfoundland, he should have gone to Quebec or Ontario. Anywhere but the U.S. South of the border pundits of — well, most of one stripe — weighed in to declare that this showed the incredible weakness of the Canadian healthcare system.

But the facts don’t support either position.

First of all, he was going to have to travel anyway. Newfoundland has a population — as MedPage Today’s Mike Himowitz kindly pointed out — less than that of Wyoming. I don’t know this for certain, but I bet there are some heart procedures that aren’t available in Wyoming. Can you imagine a fuss if the governor of Wyoming went outside the state for surgery? I thought not.

So Danny Williams was going to get treatment outside his province. Given that, why not the States? The weather is nicer in many places (unless of course, he went to Washington but he’s smarter than that) and he could maybe catch a few rays while convalescing.

That, of course, never entered anybody’s mind, at least not in the blogosphere.

Now let’s imagine the governor of Wyoming traveling for surgery. He might even go north of the border — some Americans do — although I don’t know why he would in winter. Would that say anything at all about the American healthcare system? I thought not.

My point — and I do have one, somewhere — is that I’m tired of people setting up straw men and knocking them down for the sake of making debater’s points. By all means, let’s have a vigorous discussion of issues. But let’s make sure they ARE issues first.

Michael Smith is the North American Correspondent at MedPage Today and blogs at In Other Words, the MedPage Today staff blog.

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  • WhiteCoat

    Sorry, but your logic is faulty. Going somewhere for major surgery because the weather is warmer?
    Yeah, I’m going to go have major cardiac surgery somewhere sunny so I can lay on the beach instead of the recovery room. Next time – I know! I’ll get air-lifted to the Bahamas when my aneurysm ruptures.

    His decision to have this surgery in the US was premeditated and he admitted knowing that it would cause a backlash.
    As a “prominent politician”, his actions will be scrutinized. You don’t like that, don’t go into politics.
    His decision not just to leave his province of Wyoming, but to leave his entire country for an elective surgical procedure is a slap in the face to the many competent Canadian surgeons who were capable of performing the procedure.
    Danny Williams’ actions were kind of like taking your kid to his football game then going to watch another football game somewhere else because “the lighting was better” in that field.
    Or maybe it was like knowing your wife worked all afternoon to cook you beef stroganoff for dinner and you picked up a box of beef stroganoff Hamburger Helper and made that for dinner because it was “on sale”.
    Even if he honestly believed that the surgeon was better in the US, if he can’t demonstrate loyalty and trust to the Canadian system and Canadian physicians, why should Canadian voters show loyalty and trust to him?

  • Robert

    I think that’s ridiculous too. The U.S. has plenty of fantastic surgeons and physicians, but the REAL trouble here is that not enough people have access to them. Believe it or not, good care IS available here in the U.S. to some.

  • Healthcare Observer

    There are a few facts to add about the Williams case.

    He’s a rich man and a conservative who I expect is no great supporter of national health insurance. He has a condo in Florida. Plenty of rich Americans go to places such as Switzerland for treatment.

    The minimally invasive heart surgery he had was pioneered in … Canada and Canada has several world experts. But it is not necessarily better than standard treatments.

  • paul

    yep. if he was capable of having his needs (real or perceived) met in canada, i don’t see why he would voluntarily face this kind of backlash getting his surgery in the states. because the weather is warmer? please.

  • ninguem

    This Danny Williams incident illustrates the difference between the USA and Canada’s medical system.

    In the USA, the rich jump to the head of the line and can receive better and more timely medical care, not necessarily available to those of lesser means.

    On the other hand, in Canada, the rich jump to the head of the line and can receive better and more timely medical care, not necessarily available to those of lesser means.

    Hope that clears up any confusion.

  • Jenga

    “Some” Americans go to Canada for care. Name a U.S. Politician that has.

  • Theo

    The comparison is not valid. I live in Wyoming. Wyoming actually has some pretty good heart care and other sophisticated medical procedures in its major towns. However, the farthest most people would have to go for anything not offered here is Denver, unless it was a really specialized kind of care that only, say, Beth Israel Medical Center in NYC could offer. Denver is only 2 hours by car from the capital of Wyoming, Cheyenne.

    Also, going to a different city in the same country is not the same as going to a different country where the health system is markedly different from yours.

    Williams’ actions have meanings. They have meanings because of who he is, where he lives, where he went, why he went.

    If the governor of Wyoming took his ailing mother to Oregon for end of life “care” — that is, for physician assisted suicide — that would have meaning, too. It would have meaning in all the same ways as Williams’ did.

  • The Patient Factor

    In cases involving our politicans the faulfinding is not with their seeking the best medical care for their medical conditions in another country, but in upholding a system in their own country whereby the government is the gatekeeper of its citizens’ health care. It may be easier for some politicians to justify leaving the country rather than jumping the queues within it. Wiliams, like many before him, is excercising an individual freedom of choice in health care decisions. Perhaps we should encourage him to fight for the rights that would enable his fellow citizens to enjoy this same freedom within their own country.

  • H

    In the US if you have money, you can get the best care.

    If you don’t have money, you go to Mexico.

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